Ex-etiquette: Son’s reaction to you is red flag
Question: I am 22 years old, and I have a daughter 3 years old. Her father died. Now I have met a guy with two sons, 1 year and 7 years old. The 7-year-old son can’t stand that his father and me are together. When we visit each other, the boy cries and he just wants to sit with his daddy. We have no time alone. I. can’t handle it anymore. I have started to hate that boy. I love his father so much, but his father is falling for all his son’s nonsense. What’s good ex-etiquette?
Answer: So many red flags — on Dad’s part and yours. Let’s start with you: Ex-etiquette rule No. 1 is “Put the children first.” That means, if your boyfriend’s son is crying, there’s a problem, it’s not nonsense and, rather than get frustrated, take a look at what might be going on and how you are contributing to it.
Things cannot always be blamed on a child being spoiled. (I believe that was the implication.) Of course, that’s a possibility, but more likely, and here’s Dad’s red flag — Dad has not sufficiently prepared his child for the possibility of a new relationship.
So often, parents just expect their kids to fall into place. “I like her, so you should like her.” but, parents don’t take into consideration how a child perceives a parent moving on. Never mind that it’s only been months, not years, since the breakup.
First, change is scary for a child, and with no preparation, it’s doubly scary. Second, a new partner means you don’t like Mommy best anymore. If you don’t like Mommy best anymore, there’s a possibility you may not like me best some day. This child’s actions may not be based in “nonsense” as much as plain unadulterated fear.
To prepare a child for a new relationship, start slowly. A couple of hours at first, no displays of affection, then move to day visits going to activities that the kids will enjoy. Overnights are down the road when you decide to make a go of it — again, starting out slowly. Alone time? Most parents in an active relationship will tell you that you have to plan for alone time when you have kids. If you want alone time, get a baby sitter. Alone time with kids? I’m laughing just thinking about it.
This is not to say that romance is a thing of the past. A new relationship with kids can be very romantic if you want it to be; you just have understand that relationships with kids are not like first-time relationships. You can’t just drop everything and have sex in the kitchen. Little eyes are watching and personalizing every move you make.
Finally, to be blunt, combining families is hard work. There will be ongoing problems with kids and exes and the usual problems associated with any relationship. A child having trouble with his dad having a girlfriend is quite normal and only the beginning. If you want to make a go of this relationship, I would suggest you unite with Dad and look for ways to make this child feel more secure. If you see that as a chore, you are not right together. Loving Dad is not enough to make a relationship work.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.